Exceptions are Exceptions Because they are Exceptions

Dollar in the bag

You can self-publish a book, sell 10,000 copies in the first week, 50,000 in the second week and be a millionaire in three months.

You can write a book and mail it to a publisher, they publish it without meeting you and you become a wealthy household name.

An antiques dealer can knock on your door and offer you $250,000 for your end table that you bought last summer at a garage sale for $5.

You could be called out from the stands, given a basketball and offered a million dollars if you make a basket from seventy-five feet away. And you do.

These things could happen. But they are exceptions. Exceptional exceptions, but exceptions nevertheless. Planning your life or career around them would be rather futile and frustrating.

The Oprah Winfrey Show was the Holy Grail for publishers when she started her book club in 1996. Her endorsement of a book made it an instant bestseller. Do you know how many books she selected over 16 years? Seventy-two…that is 72.

Not all Oprah selections were new books, with a number of older classics among them. Over that same 16-year period, roughly three million new books were published in the U.S., which means only one in 75,000 new books were picked as an Oprah selection. Regardless, I have heard authors say, “If we could just get Oprah to endorse my book.” Sure, that would be nice.

In the Christian market, that magic marketing potion has been a number of things from an interview on a prominent radio or TV program, a prime speaking engagement at a prominent conference, a bookstore chain main promotion or a social network site gone mega-viral. Some very successful authors had moderate initial success and then their book was mentioned by an influential pastor or musician, causing a substantial increase in sales, which snowballed to something more.

But these are exceptions. And they are exceptions to the normal process because they are extremely rare occurrences.

Don’t be frustrated with your publisher if they don’t spend a lot of time pursuing exceptions. They can’t base their businesses on them any more than you can plan your income and expenses for the next several years based on regularly winning your state lottery. It would be foolish to say the least.

Publishers base their businesses on proven principles of marketing, sales and financial management, while always remaining ready to act if something extraordinary does happens. The business of publishing is risky enough without spending a lot of time doing what works no more than once every 75,000 times.

Be realistic, trust your publisher and be thankful if God drops serendipity into your life. Remember, the publisher wants to succeed at getting your book into readers’ hands as much as you do.

Not all serendipities are big and spectacular. What writing or publishing surprises have you had lately?

13 Responses to Exceptions are Exceptions Because they are Exceptions

  1. Ron Estrada January 7, 2014 at 5:36 am #

    I had a well known author contact me last year and offer to do a project together. Unfortunately, I had been out of the game for a couple of years and really wasn’t ready. The project never came together, but opportunity knocked hard in that case. I guess the moral is to keep working. When lighting strikes, you’ll be ready for it.

  2. Jenny Leo January 7, 2014 at 5:42 am #

    Thanks for putting the whole success thing into perspective, Dan. As my mom would say, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” I just read an interview with a highly published secular author in which she discussed her route to success, and the words “lucky,” “fortunate,” and “right place at the right time” appeared in nearly every paragraph. Early in my writing journey I read a collection of essays by established Christian authors. I wish I had a nickel (well, a quarter–inflation, you know) for every time one of them wrote, “I never intended to write books, I never wanted to be a writer, I was just bumbling along, but God gave me this story and then I accidentally bumped into an editor who begged to buy it and the next thing I knew it was published and everyone wanted to read it, and gosh, here I am today, blinking in the spotlight, but I have no idea how I got here.” Sometimes it sounds like the surest route to publication is to not want it, lol. Maybe it’s a humility thing. Or the classic, “This is how I did it, but now disregard everything I’ve said because that’s not how the industry works anymore.” I continually go back to the reasons I started writing fiction in the first place, which are that it’s a heck of a lot of fun and that the winters are very long in Idaho. :) But if some of my work does get published eventually, I hope I won’t say that I don’t know how it happened.

  3. Jenny Leo January 7, 2014 at 6:15 am #

    Of course, it’s important to not overlook or discount the hand of God working in a writer’s life. Still, I’m reminded of the old Farside cartoon where the scientist scrawls “and then magic happens” in the middle of his complex equation.

  4. Jeanne Takenaka January 7, 2014 at 7:16 am #

    Such a good reminder, Dan. I learned early on not to think I can be an “exception.” But, if I put in the hard work, remain teachable and keep at it, hopefully I’ll have a book published one day. :) I know God can make me an exception, but I don’t expect it, if that makes sense.

    I haven’t had many serendipities in my writing journey, but perhaps I haven’t really been looking for them.

    • Dan Balow January 7, 2014 at 7:30 am #

      You have had serendipities in your writing life…maybe not big ones, some are small and explained only as God himself at the center of each. Any time a thought or inspiration comes to you is one, like when you pray and you cannot think what to pray and then you suddenly have the words.

      No amount of human competency can do what only God can do. The best Christian stories climax when God shows up!

      • Jeanne Takenaka January 7, 2014 at 9:12 am #

        Dan, thanks for the encouragements. I need to be more purposeful in looking for those serendipities. :) I loved your last thought. Thanks for that.

  5. Richard Mabry January 7, 2014 at 7:54 am #

    Dan, Great post that puts things in proper perspective. I don’t play the lottery, and I don’t expect my book (whether traditionally published or self-published) to be a best-seller. My main goal is to write the best book I can. After that, it’s out of my hands. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Gail Helgeson January 7, 2014 at 8:18 am #

    Humanly speaking, I think we all want to be the “exception.” As I look back on the year, I am confident of God’s presence in my journey. My journal speaks volumes of His continued guidance. It amazes and comforts me. My goal is to enter a few contests in this new year, but ultimately, I just want to finish my novel. Just me and God, sitting here together so that I can lay it at His feet. I am enjoying it immensely. I have already been blessed by contacts from those I would never have had without walking this path. How wonderful it is to truly be joyful for the success of others. God gives me just what I need for my day. I think this verse may just be my help for the year 2 Chronicles 15:7″…Take courage. Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded…” Blessings on everyone’s day today.

  7. Patrick Craig January 7, 2014 at 8:29 am #

    Having spent years in the record industry before I became a published author, I understand exactly what you are saying here. I once had a conversation with a friend whose record company had gone bankrupt in the middle of their album project. The tracks were locked in the vault at the recording studio waiting payment of the bill. My friend, Bill, had no idea what would happen. The band fully expected that the record would never see the light of day. Then someone introduced them to a former stock broker who liked the band, and their new friend paid the rather large bill, took the tapes to a friend at another record company and the album was released. My friend was Bill Gibson, the band was Huey Lewis and the News and the album was the Sports album which ended up going multi-platinum. So hang in there everyone, you just never know.

    • Dan Balow January 7, 2014 at 8:36 am #

      That is a great story. My life would be diminished (fun-wise) without “The Heart of Rock and Roll”. One of my favorite bands of all time.

  8. Kathy N. January 7, 2014 at 8:35 am #

    Thanks for the reality check. Every few days I hear from a reader who says my novel impacted a life. I want that to be enough Serendipity to keep me going.

  9. J.D. Maloy January 7, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

    Dan, this post is a fantastic reminder about the purpose of our writing. Getting to the heart of the reason of why we do it puts the process of it all (publication included) into God centered perspective.

    Richard, your main goal is spot on. Keep going!

    Gail, “Just me and God, sitting here together so I can lay it at His feet.” Yes! Is there any better place to be with writing? I say no way :)

  10. Chris Malkemes January 8, 2014 at 8:37 am #

    I’m not a published author. God has been working years crafting Himself in my heart. I write every day with expectation knowing that in His perfect timing it will be released. By blogging I have been given hope. I woke up this morning with this thought ringing over and over in my head like church bells: “take pleasure in the treasure of His will.” Is that serendipity? Is that the exception? I don’t know, but I know the path He’s laid out for me will have its own rewards – published or not.

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